While I usually take my camera equipment in a carry-on when I fly (within the US), that's not always an option (small plane where no carry-on other than my purse is allowed, travelling with too much computer/camera equipment to carry it all on, etc.).

Last time I checked my camera equipment, it was put back in the case incorrectly after (I assume) being searched, causing some very serious breakage. While "that's what insurance is for" certainly applies, having to try to replace a camera on short notice during a trip is an inconvenience I'd rather avoid.

Is there any way I can check something this delicate/valuable without it being destroyed? If not, can I at least reduce the chance of major damage somehow?

I already have a good camera case. The problem happened when airport personnel couldn't be bothered to put the camera back properly (I assume the case was searched after I checked it) and instead ripped some of the padded dividers out, crammed them into another part of the case, and wedged the camera in the wrong way. Without any padding to keep it from moving, and wedged against the side of the case as it was, the camera broke during what may have been normal baggage handling during transportation.

  • related travel.stackexchange.com/questions/89/…
    – Adriano
    Commented May 21, 2015 at 9:57
  • Do everything you can to carry on what you can - especially lenses. I would check a laptop and anything else before checking a camera. Checked items get routinely dropped metres - this is kryptonite for optics. Even book different flights based on carry on being available - what's more hassle a broken camera or getting a different flight?
    – niico
    Commented Apr 1, 2018 at 11:58

4 Answers 4


Buy a gun.

No really. You can buy a Starter Pistol (you know, the kind used to signal the beginning of a race) for under fifty bucks. According to TSA regulations, any case which contains a firearm is inspected at the time of check-in, and then locked and tracked in transit. This means that your bag will not be searched except under your direct supervision, and will be traced far more carefully than most checked bags. This will mean spending a little extra time getting checked in at the airport, but the peace of mind is worth it if you absolutely must check serious valuables.

From the TSA's regulations:

Starter Pistols - can only be carried as checked baggage and MUST be unloaded, packed in a locked hard-sided container, and declared to the airline at check-in. Read our Firearms & Ammunition section.

Which in turn reads:

  • Travelers must declare all firearms, ammunition, and parts to the airline during the ticket counter check-in process. The container must be locked. A locked container is defined as one that completely secures the firearm from being accessed. Cases that can be pulled open with little effort cannot be brought aboard the aircraft. Federal regulations prohibit unlocked gun cases (or cases with broken locks) on aircraft.
  • TSA inspects all firearm cases at the ticket counter. Travelers should remain in the area designated by the aircraft operator or TSA representative to take the key back after the container is cleared for transportation. If travelers are not present and the security officer must open the container, TSA or the airline will make a reasonable attempt to contact the owner. If contact is not made, the container will not be placed on the aircraft.
  • 6
    Interesting, I doubt the same would work for overseas travel?
    – Abarax
    Commented Jun 22, 2011 at 23:37
  • 4
    @Abarax: This depends entirely on the local regulations of wherever you intend to fly to. If one end of your trip is in the US, your flight will have to comply with the TSA regs, so, as long as doing so doesn't conflict with local regs in say... France, you could certainly use it to fly from Paris to NY. Because a Starter Pistol isn't actually a weapon, it doesn't run afoul of the same sorts of laws a real gun would, but there are likely still restrictions to watch out for. Always check what the local rules are wherever you intend to fly! Commented Jun 22, 2011 at 23:43
  • 8
    This is really the accepted answer? The question was not USA-centric, but the answer certainly is. Taking a gun with you is a HUGE no-no for many countries, and may see you being refused entry to your destination if flying internationally.
    – John Lyon
    Commented Jun 23, 2011 at 5:30
  • 4
    @jozzas: Keep in mind, a Starter Pistol is not a gun - while it is restricted by the same rules for flying, it is not a firearm, and is usually not subject to the laws governing them. For instance, with the exception of a few specific models (which can be converted to fire live rounds), starter pistols are completely legal and require no licensing, registration, or other special documentation in most countries. While local regulations do vary (for instance, in the UK, the pistol must be painted a bright color), I'd hardly call it a HUGE no-no. As always, do your homework! Commented Jun 23, 2011 at 16:11
  • 4
    Actually, if you're going to the US, you don't even need the gun. A single live round of ammunition in a small metal safety case will be sufficient, and the TSA guys will watch it like a hawk. Bullets are also easier to obtain and less regulated than guns, so it expands the list of countries you can do this from.
    – Polynomial
    Commented Nov 23, 2011 at 11:59

While taking it as carry-on is really the only way to guarantee safe travels as you said, sometimes it's not possible.

If you 100% cannot take it as carry-on I would suggest investing in a case made specifically for cameras. Something like these ZERO Halliburton aluminum camera cases should help protect it against rough handling.

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Professionals use rugged, waterproof cases like those from Pelican cases. This is a good example of something that would be suitable for carrying camera gear. My workplace ships sensitive equipment all over the world in cases like this. They aren't cheap, but if you've got enough camera gear that you can't carry it all on with you, you can probably afford a case.


As pointed out by here, the way the woman is handling the luggage in the video is doing her job 100% correct:

And one last thing, you need to expect your bag to be tossed around, a 3 foot drop is no big deal. Delicate fragile items need to be shipped cargo or taken on the plane carry on. No bottle would break at all with this handling if it was wrapped. This is no big deal I expect my own bags to be thrown around so don't go all crazy that your bag is tossed around. That's why it's luggage.

This means that cameras that you cannot take as carry-on luggage, should only be shipped as cargo. While they can be packed such that they can withstand rough handling in the sense that the camera will work when turned on and at first sight the pictures will look ok., the shock waves moving through the camera may cause the very delicate alignment of the autofocus system to shift, causing back or front focus. While such problems can be fixed by recalibrating the autofocus system, you may only notice the problem when you are back home doing post processing work on your pictures, viewing them at full magnification. When taking the pictures, unsharpness at full magnification may not be apparent due to noise that you plan to eliminate using image stacking when back at home.

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